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Officer hot lines at go-get-em banks

Some of the newly opened banks in California are zeroing in on the sacred ground of the statewide lending giants: small and medium-size businesses. In the process, they are bending over backward to accommodate business customers with such attractions as faster decisions on loans, deposits' pickup, and hot-line telephones to bank officers' homes.

"There is an entrepreneurial revival in this country and it's at a peak in California in three places -- the peninsula in San Francisco, north of Sacramento, and right here in the San Gabriel Valley," points out Dale E. Walter , president of Bank of Industry, in the community of City of Industry.

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The audience sought by Bank of Industry, which opened last March, is any person who owns a business with $1 million to $10 million in annual sales, says Mr. Walter, former president of Redwood Bank, San Francisco. "We're after a certain market segment that is rather limited."

City of Industry is unusual, compared with other communities around the nation, because the residential population in its 10-square-mile area is only 664. The employment population is about 50,000, however, since the city lives up to its name with more than 700 companies doing business there.

Meanwhile, another independent bank, operating in the shadow of major financial institutions in downtown Los Angeles, is seeking business from a wide area. "Many business people do not really need the convenience of a local bank, " mentions Bob Kummer, chairman of the First Business Bank, which started in May.

"The important thing is a close, personal relationship with a bank, not how close it is geographically," he emphasizes. "The answer to credit decisions is frequently not in the financial statements but rather is based on the banker's personal knowledge and evaluation of the individual's integrity and creditworthiness."

Bank officer accessibility, especially in time of need, is vital too, Mr. Kummer adds. So First Business Bank extends customer contact off hours through hot-line telephones into homes of the four top officers. Kummer claims no other bank in the country offers such a service. His bank also provides daily bonded courier service, picking up deposits, to about 60 percent of business customers within a 100-mile range.

Another newcomer cuts through the time machine by not having a formal loan committee, a fixture with most other banks. In dealing with business and professional firms, Wilshire Bank of Los Angeles is "going all out to streamline banking operations," says the president, Larry G. Frampton."Our primary focus is on meeting customer needs and opportunities rather than dwelling on bank standard procedures."

Loan documents at the bank, which opened in August, are two pages or less, and there is no arbitrary demand to sign personal guarantees on business loans, Mr. Frampton stresses. "Each loan customer will meet with an officer who has authority to say 'yes.'"

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